/Trump and Rouhani agreed to negotiating plan before scuttled call

Trump and Rouhani agreed to negotiating plan before scuttled call

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addresses the UN General Assembly | Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Document seen by POLITICO was basis for meeting and negotiations.

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10/1/19, 5:08 PM CET

Updated 10/1/19, 5:53 PM CET

PARIS — Donald Trump and Hassan Rouhani agreed on a four-point document brokered by Emmanuel Macron in New York last week as a basis for a meeting and relaunching negotiations between the U.S. and Iran, according to French officials.

While the U.S. and Iranian presidents agreed on the document, which has been seen by POLITICO, they ended up not meeting after Rouhani insisted that Trump first declare he would lift U.S. sanctions, according to the officials. A phone call that Macron tried to set up between the two leaders as an alternative to the meeting did not take place because Rouhani declined to participate.

The document was the result of days of shuttle diplomacy by Macron on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, with the aim of defusing tension between Tehran and Washington. That tension has been rising since Trump pulled out of the 2015 deal under which Iran accepted controls on its nuclear program in return for the lifting of international sanctions.

According to the document, Tehran would agree that “Iran will never acquire a nuclear weapon” and will “fully comply with its nuclear obligations and commitments and will accept a negotiation on a long-term framework for its nuclear activities.” It would also “refrain from any aggression and will seek genuine peace and respect in the region through negotiations” — language that mirrors remarks made by Trump before the General Assembly last week.

Also as part of the plan, the United States would agree to “lift all the sanctions re-imposed since 2017” and “Iran will have full ability to export its oil and freely use its revenues,” according to the text.

The document was the result of days of shuttle diplomacy by Macron on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.

Although Iran’s ballistic missile program is not specifically mentioned in the text, French officials said the language on Tehran’s regional role was understood by all sides to mean it would be part of negotiations.

“It was clear to all that the negotiation over regional issues would necessarily include their ballistic program,” said a French official familiar with the talks.

Some elements of the recent diplomatic efforts have been reported in recent days by the New Yorker and New York Times but the text of the document put forward by Macron has not been previously reported.

French President Emmanuel Macron addresses the UN General Assembly | John Moore/Getty Images

The document was designed to allow all sides to claim victory. Trump would be able to say he had reached his long-standing goal of expanding the Iran nuclear deal to cover Tehran’s regional and ballistic activities. Iran’s leaders could claim they had resisted the U.S. policy of maximum pressure and achieved full sanctions relief. And Macron would be able to portray himself as a peacemaker who had averted a new war in the Middle East and restored France as an essential global powerbroker.

But the breakthrough was thwarted after Rouhani insisted that Trump give an indication before any meeting that U.S. sanctions would be lifted, the French official said. That stance reflected Rouhani’s difficulties at home, where elements of the Iranian regime are strongly opposed to any deal with the U.S., and a wariness about trusting Trump after he pulled out of the nuclear deal.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei declared ahead of the U.N. gathering that Tehran should not talk to the U.S. before Washington returns to the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Trump agreed to the document in a meeting with Macron on Tuesday afternoon last week at the Lotte New York Palace Hotel, according to French officials. Macron then presented Rouhani with the same document, at the Millennium Hilton New York One UN Plaza Hotel.

“He agreed on the principles of the document and he thanked the president because there is the explicit mention of the sanctions [but] he wanted Trump to say before entering the meeting that he was lifting the sanctions,” said the French official.

In an attempt to capitalize on agreement by both sides on the document, and on Rouhani’s presence in New York, Macron and his team suggested a secure phone call with Trump at 9 p.m. that Tuesday evening. The Iranians agreed to allow technicians to set up the equipment required for such a call, but didn’t agree to the call itself, according to the French official.

US President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron | Ludovic Marin/AFP via Getty Images

“We set up the gear with the approval of the Iranians, evidently, because it was happening at their quarters,” the French official said. “The technicians arrived, the Iranians let them set up, they assisted them, there was no problem.”

Macron returned to Rouhani’s quarters later in the evening but the Iranian president was not willing to take part in the call.

The French president then “spoke to Trump on the secure line in question and told him what happened and thanked him for his openness and his willingness to negotiate on the basis we built and told him what the Iranians were saying which is that they need more time to be able to accept the principle of a meeting.”

U.S. officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this report. Iranian officials could not be reached for comment.

The Iranians agreed to allow technicians to set up the equipment required for the call, but didn’t agree to the call itself.

Iran’s insistence on the U.S. taking a first step, instead of both parties simultaneously taking steps toward each other, has consistently been a major hurdle in attempts to broker a resumption of negotiations.

On his way to the U.N. General Assembly, Macron alluded to the difficulties of dealing with two leaders who operate very differently.

“President Trump is able to change things — if he is convinced — very quickly and he is not administration-driven, he decides alone and quickly,” Macron told reporters aboard his plane. “President Rouhani is someone who needs to line up a whole system before negotiating, it’s almost the opposite.”

Despite ultimately failing to broker a phone call or a meeting in New York, French officials said they would press on with their diplomatic efforts.

“The alternative is a major conflict in the Gulf,” the French official said.

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